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Zoltan Bathory: The Interview Contains The Answers
If you listen to rock radio in America, it’s hard to miss Five Finger Death Punch. With almost one million copies of their first two CDs sold, they’ve had a number of hits on both the metal and rock charts. Their remake of the classic Bad Company rock tune, “Bad Company,” from their current CD, War is the Answer, went to #2 on the charts. Today, their audience includes not just metal heads but mainstream rock listeners, and the band recently joined the ranks of other major talents to be invited to play for the U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait.
Part of FFDP’s appeal is the diversity of their sound. While many songs capture the interest of the typical hard rock fan with soaring vocals and big hooks, other songs have the heavy, rapid 32nd note guitar assault and angry screaming vocals that modern metal fans embrace. They have played many of the major metal festivals including Korn’s Family Values and Download Festival, and they have been on tour in 2010 in support of metal masters Godsmack.
You can attribute much of this band’s success to its founder and former U.P.O. guitarist, Zoltan Bathory. Never one to allow the band’s sound to get pigeon-holed into one metal sub-genre, he shares guitar duties with another master of many styles, Jason Hook, whose credits range from Vince Neil to the BulletBoys to Mandy Moore.
With impeccable precision (he won the “Best Shredder” award in the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Award) and attention to the finest details of his tone and technique, Zoltan Bathory is one serious shredder you should get to know.
“You just do what you’re into.”
MPc: Back in March you guys went over to Iraq to play for the troops. What was that experience like?
Bathory: Oh, that was pretty [incredible]. Basically from the beginning we wanted to go because we know that a lot of bands are going there… well actually not a lot (laughing)… they chicken out before they go. We always wanted to do to it and the band wasn’t popular enough yet, ya’ know? We were probably one of the only bands who were like, “Come on guys, let us go.” So we wanted to go and I mean it was really unbelievable, you know, just the fact that you are in places where no one can go to. I mean we were sleeping in Saddam Hussein’s palace!
We were doing combat take offs, combat landings, not by choice. We were there in the days of the election so there was super hostile [activity] but you know just the whole idea that you are in the desert, there’s nothing really around and there’s all these guys who are super official and some of them are there for years, and just playing these shows it’s a really… one way it’s amazing, the other way it’s bizarre. I mean here, if somebody falls in a mosh pit they just pick him up or something. Over there, the story is totally different because everybody’s armed and everybody’s like, “Hey guys um… I hope your safeties are on and there are no grenades in the mosh pit, right?” I mean if you looked at what was going on there, these guys were going absolutely NUTS. You know, soldiers falling on the stage, crowd-surfing with a machine gun on their back. I mean, it was insanity. I had calluses on my hands from shaking hands; I probably shook about 12,000 hands in a week. I mean, you know we support these guys and at this point it doesn’t even matter why there is war. These are our brothers, sisters, friends that are there. So, you know, we found that this is our part, this is what we have to put in, you know?
Bathory: It was pretty amazing. In Baghdad we were playing the last song and helicopters came over the stage and began shooting flares. We didn’t know why the Army was doing it because it was freaking… amazing. And then there were some places like up north where it is still really dicey, special forces compounds... It was an honor to do it. We talked to so many guys. You spend so much time with them, we had a lot of fun. We got to shoot all kinds of shit (laughing).
MPc: Yeah, I saw you guys shooting guns in a video clip. We [U.S. taxpayers] paid for those bullets, by the way.
Bathory: I know (laughing). Thank you, guys!
MPc: See? We actually run really long interviews.
Bathory: Oh, awesome. Will you guys be transcribing it?
Bathory: Okay. Good luck with my accent. (laughing)
MPc: I’ll tell that to our intern, Michelle. (laughing) What kind of issues do you face as a band when you go over there to perform in terms of gear? What were you able to bring over?
Bathory: Well, you know my amplifiers, I use Diamond Amps, so they are weapons of mass destruction, but basically the Army has entertainment centers and whatnot so they have [music] equipment and they have a crew that knows how this equipment works so when we arrive we just have our guitars or personal gear and maybe effects and this and that. You have to minimize it, you know? They had nice venue amplifiers and what not. I mean you have a lot of guys over there. They need to be entertained, they need to have some sort of a life, so when bands are coming over, at least they can provide a level of entertainment to them. So we arrived and you know the transportation… you used military transportation and it was a lot of fun to us, but you know, I guess some people probably would complain because you’re sitting on the low wooden bench, flying C-130s, transport planes, and for me it was the fun-est thing in the world. But you know, it’s not flying first class and when something happens then the plane will drop out of the sky, just like that. They have to.
Bathory: It is what it is.
“It’s not about if I can play a million notes per second.
MPc: Cool. So, let’s talk about the band. I hear a lot of different influences, especially listening to the current album, War is the Answer. You have a bunch of melodic songs that have a lot of actual singing over them. And then you have songs that have angry screaming vocals. Then you have songs that are sort of half and half, in between. Now, where do you see yourselves going because you know, it’s almost like you guys could really go anywhere in any one of these directions and have very different audiences.
Bathory: The idea what we’re doing is basically kind of similar to our experiences or bands that we grew up on, the bands that we liked. I mean, this whole thing started with we didn’t have management, we didn’t have a label, nothing. Our first record is a do-it-yourself record. We recorded that album and produced it, I produced it. And when we hooked up with a label we had the whole record done — mastered, mixed, everything. So they just picked it up and that is the record that basically got so successful to begin with.
So there’s the proof that you just do what you’re into. There was no producer standing behind us or a label saying, “Hey, you guys should do this or that.” It was purely us, it was purely, you know, the kind of music we were in love with — heavy metal… the reason we even talk about these segments that you mentioned is because somehow, I don’t know… When I was growing up this was all in one umbrella, heavy metal. Now this is breaking down into sub-genres of, you know, of the most ridiculous Snow-Core; I mean what the fuck is Snow-Core, right? (laughing) There are people who try and categorize these because there has to be some sort of reference I guess.
Bathory: But for me it’s all heavy metal. Like, I love Slayer but at the same time one of my favorite bands is Accept which is, if you really look at it, it’s on a whole other side of the spectrum. So for us it was always just like “Look, there are no rules, we write everything down, there are no stupid ideas.” That’s the worst thing you can put in a creative process if people starting shooting them down.
First and foremost, we always looked for trying to write a song. Like the Beatles showed us how to, how to write a fucking song, but what this is about is writing a song and the song can be heavy, it can be super heavy, or the song can be super melodic. But there’s gonna’ be some sort of a structure. It has to be a journey throughout the song, there has to be dynamic changes that some people may not be aware of. You have to play music for a long time to start to understand the neurons of it. Like, I can play the same riff for you. And if I push the drums, the snare, just a little bit then the music is gonna’ feel like you can almost have a feeling of anxiety because the drums are pushing on them. If I lay back on the drums then it’s kind of like smooth sailing, kind of laid back, almost bluesish, right? And the same riff, by the way you place your snare can sound totally different and have a totally different effect on you, so those are the things we were always into like, “What kind of parts and how it’s assembled?” That it will actually give you some sort of feeling, the song has to touch somebody.
It’s not about if I can play a million notes per second. Of course I can, but that’s not the point — that’s exercise. That’s not impressive to me. What’s impressive to me is when it comes to your art. Can I write a song that people are gonna’ go, “Oh that’s weird, that’s artful, that’s groundbreaking.” Probably, you’re just gonna’ use weird time signatures and just weird shit that’s difficult to play. But is that really art? Some would say that’s what art is, but for me art is when you write a song that will stay around or touch millions of people. For me, that’s art. And if someone were to argue like, ‘That’s easy.” No, if that’s easy than everybody would do it because that’s what a hit song is. Everybody is chasing that hit song, and it’s not that easy, you know? That’s what they extend to you. You get to a point when you find an area where you can express yourself in a way that a lot of people can understand it. That’s, for me, that’s the goal.
And that was always what we were going for; writing songs that I feel that, “Fuck, I can play air guitar to this,” ya’ know? We didn’t think about all these sub-genres and where this fits so that’s why I guess we cover a wide spectrum because for me, “The Bleeding,” that was our first hit which is kind of a mellow song compared to “The Way of the Fist,” which is full of anger and is a fast and a brutal song. It still fits, you know what I mean? I feel like as long as you can listen to the song and you can tell like, “Oh, that’s Five Fingered Death Punch” and “that’s also Five Fingered Death Punch,” then we created something. If you hear Iron Maiden, the first three riffs you already know its Iron Maiden. That means you have an identity. You created something that people can immediately tell and the wider that [musical variety] is, the better the situation because why would I, as a musician, why would I lock myself into a really narrow place, right? “Oh, we can’t play that because we aren’t metal enough.” That’s what I think is, you know, is what a lot of musicians fall into. They lock themselves into the corner and they think it’s not much or bad because it’s not macho enough because maybe it has a melody. That’s not music — the rules are not to be followed in music. You can do whatever. That’s a long answer but that’s why it is like that.
“What’s that scale? I don’t give a shit.
MPc: Tell us about some of the music that influenced you as a player when you were younger.
Bathory: See, the thing is, obviously when I was really young I got hooked on music just because I loved the music, and I got interested in heavy metal and I thought, “Oh my god, this is the greatest thing in the world.” But it was a time when those guys could really play. You couldn’t be in a heavy metal band if you couldn’t play. There were a lot of criteria: you had to look the part and you had to play like, you know, crazy. You had to be a shredder on every instrument there was, right? And that was the time and I’m lucky to say I was influenced by that.
Anyone in my country [Hungary] who wanted to become a guitarist, you really had to decide that you will be because it’s gonna’ take you a couple of years to collect some money to get some shitty second hand whatever, and an average person made about fifty dollars a month at the time there so you’re not gonna’ get a Gibson anytime in your lifetime.
So my first guitar was basically a ripped off, second hand copy of something and I took the coffee table and the jigsaw and I made it into this Gibson Explorer looking monster that you could never tune, okay (laughs), but it looked heavy metal. I got to the point where I had some control over the instrument. I knew a bunch of chords and could do pretty good scales. I taught myself. I never went to any kind of school; it was always for me. Even today, it’s always a feel thing. It’s like I don’t care what’s that scale? I don’t give a shit. It’s about, does it sound right to me? That’s the only rule I care about and because that’s what music is for me. And so, I was self-taught and I got to the point like, “Okay I can do shred.” Of course I was eighteen and I had no fucking idea what I was doing but I felt like I could shred. I liked Yngwie Malmsteen and all those guys who were like Vinnie Moore and Jason Becker and Marty Friedman. I was blown away by those guys.
I was trying to imitate that and at one point I got pretty good at it. But something changed because something just caught my attention and one of the bands was actually Accept — it’s a German band, and Wolf Hoffman, the guitarist, was a guy who had a huge, huge influence on me because I started to look at Accept and it was almost like a band that sounded like AC/DC but made into heavy metal because AC/DC was a little too simple to me. I wasn’t really into that, but Accept had the dynamics and had that sound that was heavy metal and these guys could write songs that I was blown away by: the songwriting changed everything for me because I started to listen to that guy a lot. I started to see how he was one of the most underrated guitarists because he’s not really flashy but he can write songs, and his understanding of dynamics is amazing to me. I started to realize: you may be able to play a million notes per second, maybe you’re gonna’ perfect your technique. Today that’s pretty difficult for me because I got so used to picking at every note, so now it’s very unnatural for me to go into the sweeps, it almost doesn’t work for my hand because I…
MPc: I think we need to put some lighter strings on your guitar first. (laughs)
[Zoltan plays with heavier strings than you, as you’ll read later in this interview.]
Bathory: Yeah, yeah of course, but you know what I mean. Anyhow, I started to get interested in the whole idea of, “Well, that’s cool, but it’s always going to be the guitarist’s music.” We are all guitarists, so we are talking about these names, and most people don’t know who these people are, you know? Most people have no idea why these guys are so great.
MPc: Who are some artists people would be very surprised to know that you really like?
Bathory: Ennio Morricone. Ennio Morricone is a… he’s the guy. He’s a songwriter, but mainly he was writing soundtracks. I listened to a lot of soundtracks because soundtracks are engineered to make you feel a certain way. Did you ever watch a movie when it was just the wrong songs and it totally screwed up the movie? Like you’re watching a movie and you’re like, “What the fuck is that?” It’s just wrong music. When you’re watching movies, actually, it is an interesting place to analyze it and really realize that if you don’t notice the music, that’s when it’s perfect. Because the music’s job is to get you into an emotional state, like classical songwriters.
They don’t have singers. They have an orchestra, and they all have to tell you a story without a singer. Now how the hell are they gonna’ do that? And when you listen to Tchaikovsky and the story of the bear that is trudging through the forest, you’re listening and you hear the bear coming. You know (laughing) the fucking bear is coming and you know it’s a big ass grizzly. How did he communicate that? That’s the magic of music that now, if I can do this, if I can figure out a way I can communicate with my instrument, or as a songwriter with my music, now if you put a singer on top of it and if he doesn’t suck; if the singer can actually sing (and I like singers who can sing), then you’ve got the magic formula because now you have the music communicating the same thing and the singer communicating the same thing and pretty obviously we’re gonna be dealing with a message you want to deliver.
If I just listen to the soundtracks, I can recreate the movie in my head; what that was or the feeling of the movie or here’s a really good example: If you hear the U.S. Army recruitment music, you don’t have to look at the screen. It is army music, and you can’t explain to me why that is. And we think all songs like that have something to do with the Army. Every time you look at a war movie, or the soundtrack is great, it has that elevation and you’re like, “Yeah! Give me a gun. I’m going too!” How do you get to that feeling? And me, being in a heavy metal band, not being in a soundtrack business so to speak, that is a high-level education right there; that these guys are gonna’ write your music like, “Okay, the shark is coming. Da-na. Da-na. Da-na.” They have to figure out a way how to relay a message to you.
Now, some ridiculous critic, probably living in their mom’s basement, and I don’t give a shit, will say, “Ah that’s predictable.” And so are you, dude. So are you when you criticize it, I knew you would. They’re always predictable, yes every morning there’s a sun coming up, boo fucking hoo. That is the rule. It is predictable, but the point is that yes, we led you up to that point, right? And then bang — the explosion, and that’s why we’re here, to be entertaining. People are not being saved here; we are not the Coast Guard. We play music! It’s entertainment. It’s music. I want you to feel something. I want you to go home and feel like, “Man, that was a good show, man!” And tomorrow you can get up and tell your friends that you had a couple of good days because we did that! That is the point. And those are the guys who are doing good soundtrack work, those guys are masters of it.
Ennio Morricone was the guy who did most of the western movies like Once Upon a Time in the West, all the classic western movies. He did all the soundtracks, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and all that stuff… The Godfather. He’s just a master.
I’m also a fan of singers that can really sing, like Sarah Brightman. There’s a reason why this woman was cast in the Phantom of the Opera. I mean, her voice will cut your head in half — you’re like, “Holy shit.” Anyone who is that skilled on their instrument is… Wow.
“The second you start to lower your guitar,
MPc: Now let’s talk about some of your gear. How did you get involved with playing Diamond amps?
Bathory: Well you know, the gear thing is a… I’m a gear-head, so for me it’s maybe different, but…
MPc: That’s our audience!
Bathory: Oh, okay, then we can connect on this one. (laughing)
So basically, I actually had a fairly solid idea of what I wanted to hear. So for me it wasn’t like accidentally stumbling into a gear that I liked. It wasn’t about trying to copy some sound and find the same gear. I had a sound that I kind of wanted to hear. I had a vision and I had to find the stuff that I can do that with. So I wasn’t in a locked position ‘cause a lot of guitarists or any musician fall into a sound where we just found something by luck. Now, I can say I’m a lucky guy, if I look at my life right now, but I would not place that much on luck, like I may find the magic gear, that one Marshall Amp that was made in 1967 and just… “That’s the one.”
There are some guys who carry around forty year old amps because it has the magic sound, but if it gets stolen, then what? So I had a vision of what I wanted, and I have a way of playing. I’m not going to say that I invented something because early 2000, 2000ish, the band started to down tune. ’99, that’s when a lot of bands started to tune down. I mean we knew it was around but, you know, a new sound was coming. I mean all this — Slipknot, Korn, all of these guys were tuning down or using their seven-string guitars for a totally different reason than, let’s say, Steve Vai would use it for.
Bathory: So there was a different kind of vibe and when I heard that I said, “Holy shit man! How do you get that sound?” It just sounded brutally heavy and dark and was like, “Wow, that’s awesome.” And musically I was into more sophisticated stuff, so to speak, like traditional heavy metal but this stuff sound-wise I really loved it. And trying to figure out, then I realized, “Oh my God, these guys are down-tuning to like A and B,” ya’ know? So I started to research and I found baritone guitars, so I switched to baritone guitars around ten years ago, basically… ’99, 2000, and started playing around with them. Now you’re talking about playing on ship cables. I mean these were ship-towing cables. I have like 13 to 70; those are my gauges.
Bathory: 13 to 70 was really heavy, so first you have to get used to that but the second you started playing you can tell like, “Oh my God this is heavy.” But now, you start running into technical issues like, Okay, you are in some territory where most amps weren’t necessarily built for [the low frequencies]. ‘Cause now you have issues with the bass. The low notes will draw more power from the amp ‘cause it needs more power to move the speakers, especially if I play really fast on a lower string. And what’s going to happen is it’s going to need more power and a lot of amps just can not handle that.
Now I have to look at stuff like, How fast is the response of the amp? Can the speaker actually move that fast? Can the amp drive that speaker? Can it draw enough power for it? So now you start really conscious;y looking at, “Okay, I need an amp that will probably have transformers this size there because some mega-heavy amps, they are super heavy because the transformers are fuckin’ really heavy, because it needs to generate enough power. So now it came down to the voicing, it came down to the cabinets. And I was going through gear and strings and all kinds of stuff to assemble these things, then I started to realize that I had extended scale guitars and they were good, but I started to figure out, hey, I can actually play with a regular twenty-four fret standard scale guitar if I put heavier strings on it. So that’s how I found a B.C. Rich model that I liked at the time and that’s what my signature’s out of — I based it off of an actual guitar that I really liked.
“This was built for mean guys
MPc: So now, you’re playing a traditional twenty-four fret guitar, tuned down.
Bathory: Yes, tuned down to B. So it’s true baritone tuning. It’s a B to B and there’s an F sharp in there so it’s doing just the whole thing dropped down to B. And basically anybody who tries it, it will take you some time [to adjust] because bending those heavy strings, you have to deal with those muscles. But I guess because I was so into the sound of this guitar and so into how much power this has when you hit an open chord and it’s just roaring. And every time I would go to the rehearsal studios the neighboring guys, everybody would knock on our door and be like, “What the hell is that?! What is that?!” You know? Because you know, that was my first reaction, too, when I first heard it.
So I was getting that reaction, in ten years I basically developed a style that I realized from the beginning, I was into Malmsteen and the whole nine yards. He’s still the king, so bring that. He’s the king, no one is ever going to beat that guy. He’s the king forever. I was into all that [neoclassical metal] stuff, but you realize that on these guitars, to play like that? (lets out a big breath) It’s not the same thing. It’s quite a different. And so my style somehow, because of the shortcomings of the guitar, because it’s so difficult to play on it, somehow I developed a different style. I converted all those fast things to the lower strings. And now the lower strings, because they’re so heavy and the tension is different they are a little bit harder to move. I developed… I pick like a horse kicks. I pick really hard and because there is so much string tension, I’ve developed my technique [where there is this] relation between when you are picking and how the string moves, I can develop a really fast staccato style playing on the lower strings like this machine gun kind of really fast, and I can play the same strings as if I was playing solos.
But then I get to the lower strings and then I’m like, “Wow, I’ve really never heard something like this before.” So I’m like, “I’m on to something now.” And again I had to find the equipment. I had to be like, “Okay, if I’m playing these really heavy strings, and I’m picking this fast, I really need articulation here. If you have a high-gain head, there is a lot of (makes ‘zzz’ sound), buzz and this-and-that. I started to realize, Okay, I still need the low-end crunch but all that high gain stuff is just interfering, So I start to roll down my gain, right? This is how I started to [discover], you know, this head doesn’t work anymore. I was digging through heads and equipment and finding gates that are fast enough, you know? So they can cut all the noise and you can REALLY hear what I’m doing. And then I find these Dunlop pro shop gates and is it’s fast enough but will not cut down my sustain. So it was a process.
Another thing is, for example my pick. My pick I use is a Dunlop Speed Pick. The edge of the pick is twisted thirty degrees and the reason for that… a lot of guitars when you play really fast, it’s a lot easier to play if the guitar is high. The second you start to lower your guitar, there’s a lot of tension going into your wrist and it’s hard to hit, you know, but that’s the manly thing to do. After all, you’re playing heavy metal, right? You have to have the guitar low, swinging because otherwise it’s not cool, you know?
So you’re lowering your guitar and then you realize it’s hard to play when your hand is in positions that are just not comfortable. You get Carpal Tunnel; it’s really a lot of tension. You just can’t play that well. So I can deal with the tension in my hands. I’m a marital artist so I have really good forearms; I can handle the power there, but the pick has to hit the string in a straight and complete way. So every single piece in my gear from the strings, trying to figure out the gauges (like what’s the right gauge, you know?), the pick, the noise gates, the heads; I figured that out too.
Every place you play, the voltage is different. And you know if you’re always playing the same rehearsal room you’re not going to notice it and the second you get on the road and some clubs have shitty power or not enough power and all of a sudden your amp is not happening and you don’t understand why. And so I started to research it and I thought, “Wow. What am I going to do with this? Why is it not…” So you learn, you realize there are these power conditioning voltage regulators. Power conditioning is just one thing, but voltage regulators will level things out so now, anywhere I go I have the same voltage, pretty close.
MPc: That’s great. A lot of guys, they may know a lot about their amps and guitars and stuff but to pay attention to the power regulation…
MPc: I find it interesting that you use Rockfield passive pickups playing the heavier music — actually, both the pickups and the [tube-based] Diamond amp. I would almost expect you to play active pickups and a solid-state head.
Bathory: Well the thing is, the Diamond amp… It’s funny you said it because it almost react as a solid-state amp. It’s not a lazy amp, so that was important. You know what I mean? There are certain amps out there that, I’m not going to name any, because there are plenty of amps that sound great for certain things. You know, if you’re going to play some smooth blues… probably the Diamond Nitrox amp is not for you (laughs), but they have amps that are perfect for that. Not the Nitrox. This was built for mean guys that chop heads with their guitars. This amp is really fast, it’s all action, and that’s why. It’s basically the relation between how the amp pushes your speakers; how it reacts. That’s why solid-state amps are unforgiving. Big heavy death. It just (makes smacking sounds with hands)… Dimebag used to use them in the day because they are so precise. However, they’re a little bit soulless. There is something missing there. You know what I mean?
Bathory: I’m not trying to be the purist but there is something missing. I tried everything. I have Solid-state amps. There’s some kind of girth missing from there; it’s too sterile. I was looking for something that was fast enough, that has enough power and can punch when I need it.
To get back to that thing about the pickup… an active pickup will limit your frequency right away. I’m already in a frequency that is not really normal for guitars, so even if somebody’s going to make an active pickup to maybe a seven string guitar, then get in my guitar whatever the hell, right? In my experience I always find that it takes away a frequency, it almost shoves me into this frequency arrangement, almost like it doesn’t even matter what guitar I put it in; it’s almost [sounding] the same. So that’s my experience [with active electronics], that it took a bit away from the guitar’s natural tone. I don’t get enough breathing out of it, dynamics out of it.
I have to come to a tone where I can play with less gain but it still sounds just massive. How do I do that? The way I did that is that the signal to noise ratio in my rig is ridiculous. You’re gonna’ hear freaking nothing. Complete silence, and all of a sudden you hear, it goes the other way. How do you get to that point where it’s just, “Whoa! What the hell?” That’s what I was looking for. So between the gating and getting the pickups I didn’t really need to push more bottom amp, right? [The Rockfields] you could say are your average pickups. There is nothing that is interesting about it [and] that is what I was looking for. I didn’t need anything interesting.
It’s a passive pickup but it has a pretty serious signal to noise ratio. It hits. It puts a lot of power but it’s a passive pickup, it doesn’t generate much noise. I wanted something that’s pretty balanced.
MPc: What kind of speakers are in your cabinets?
Bathory: Well, I’m not supposed to tell you… but I’m going to (laughs). Mine is a cross pattern, so basically I have two vintage Celestion V-30s and two…
Bathory: Yeah, Greenbacks. Greenbacks and V-30s. I have the cross pattern, but the ones you can get in the store they are just the V-30’s. But they do have a model — Diamond has a model that you can get with a cross-pattern, but not with a Nitrox. So they have a Special Op cabinet that has a cross pattern and as I was messing around with different cabinets I found, “Okay, that sounds badass to me.” The V-30 is a little bit... too um… not sterile, but too modern maybe? I needed a little of that vintage in there, but not too much of it. So that’s how I figured out [the cross patern].
MPc: Now let’s talk about effects.
Bathory: Effects. Umm… well the effects was another hurdle because the thing is…
MPc: Clearly, you plan everything quite deliberately.
Barhory: Oh absolutely! I’m… I’m that guy. (laughing) It has to be planned out.
MPc: (sarcastic) NO!
Bathory: YES! (laughing) I’m a, you know, I’m really… I’m focused. Because there was always an issue, to switch the analog head and the effect at the same time. You can’t avoid delays. And some kind of switching system, there’s always something. Are you gonna’ pay for a Bradshaw pedalboard? They’re a lot of money. They’re bulletproof, but you’re gonna’ pay for that. So I was trying to figure out how we were going to make this happen. I needed to switch effects, you know? So I’m using basic tones. I always believe you need a golden rhythm tone, it has to come from the end dry. It’s guitar into amp, no bullshit. The cable should say, “No bullshit.” And it just comes out and that’s it; that should be your rhythm sound.
Then, I would have a clean sound that I really liked. Maybe like a Blackface, you can’t beat those. I mean, those are the holy grails. And when it comes to solo sound, probably you’re gonna’ go for a nice, creamy, probably Marshall-ish, kind of tone that has a little bit of a delay and a little bit of a chorus on it, and it’s just the holy grail.
And that’s really the three tones you need unless you are into some bigger stuff, right? But when it comes to amps, you’re gonna’ realize that, “Oh shit, how am I gonna’ do this?’ I mean, some amps are one trick ponies you can get the rhythm sound, the holy grail. There was a time when I was hauling around three amps and my guitar tech hated me. You can imagine he really did. ‘Cause then you realize, Okay, I actually need six amps because I need a double of everything, and can you patch it up so when there is trouble, it has to be seamlessly switched to the other rig? So you can imagine, that was quite a hurdle. And again, criteria, how are we gonna’ get this out of one rig? And I’m into switching systems and pedals and trying to figure this out and all of that stuff. So I can put things together [with MIDI controllers] but there’s a little bit of delay time.
But the second there is MIDI gear and an analog amp you have to figure out how to use a [Voodoo Lab] GCX or something and how you’re gonna’ switch that. TC Electronic has the G-System. The G-System can switch [amp channels via] regular TRS, a regular cable that goes from the rack into the head. Now it’s MIDI for effects, but when it comes to switching the head, the head switching is analog. That’s why I have the G-System.
And the TC Electronic effects, when it comes to the effects, oh my God. Those guys, that’s golden tone. Every single thing sounds like, “Wow,” you know? Before the G-System I had the G-Major and it sounded amazing but I still had to figure out the switching.
I got the G-System and the effects sound perfect, everything you could possibly need, especially the pitch shifting, I really love that. It’s amazing the way the thing sounds. And it switches all my amps. You can configure it to switch between two amp heads or it can just switch the channels and what not. So that is the system. Good choice.
MPc: We agree. I use the G-System in my rig, and Derek [points to other editor] plays the G-Major II.
Bathory: Okay, then we are all friends here. (laughs)
MPc: Cool. Can you think of anything that we haven’t covered that you’d want to share? (laughs)
Bathory: You didn’t talk about the new guitars yet.
[Oops! Must have gotten off that topic earlier…]
Bathory: So basically, it was an interesting story because as I said, I was using baritone guitars and you know, I don’t have big hands. I have strong hands but I’m not six foot seven…
MPc: Can you deliver a five-finger death punch?
Bathory: Well I absolutely can! Big guys like Yngwie Malmsteen, these guys can fucking reach the two fingered stretch, they can cover twelve frets. Ibanez guitars have a neck shredders go for that are fast and whatnot. For some reason, nothing against the Ibanez guitars, for me the necks are too thin. I cannot get a good grip on it somehow. It’s just not comfortable for me. And then, then you look at other guitars that have too [thick of a neck]. So I really have to find something that’s like a 1961 Gibson Les Paul, those had a pretty nice neck. They were a little bit thinner than most, and then some Schecters had pretty nice necks.
My other guitarist at the time was playing B.C. Rich guitars at the time and I went down to the B.C. Rich office completely accidentally, just hanging with him. B.C. Rich was always known for their crazy shapes and guitars. It was heavy metal. If you were playing heavy metal you had to be playing B.C. Rich. But the Warlocks and the Mockingbirds, they have that shape, which looks like it can kill a Klingon or something.
MPc: Yours looks more traditional.
Bathory: And I like more traditional stuff, right? So I was looking on the wall and there was this guitar and it’s called a PX3, Assassin. It’s a beautiful onyx with a nice white binding and it was just a beautiful guitar; really, really tasteful with a tribal thing in the neck. Nice, twenty-four frets, I saw it and I just picked it off the wall.
And I made this mistake once in my life. Once, never do it again. Back in my original country, Hungary, the local Gibson guys were giving away loaners and I could choose between getting the two Gibson explorers or whatever this other guy had, this other company — some Korean guitar company making [fake] Les Pauls. And I picked out one of their guitars and that was one of the best guitars I’ve ever held in my hand, but because it was a no name, I took the Gibsons. And for years after that I was dreaming about the other guitar saying “Fuck, why?” Like, I was never going to find a guitar that was so good, you know?
I learned from that, so anytime I grab a guitar and it feels just right I buy it. So that’s why I have a Peavey Telecaster at home, which I will never play but I picked it up in a guitar store and I’m like, “WHOA! This one.” And they’ll be like, “Wait, we have it in the back.” “Nope. This one, and I will not even give it back to you. How much?” You find a guitar that is just right; buy it man, because it just grows. Don’t let it go, somebody else will have it, you know what I mean? So anyhow, I picked up the guitar, the PX3, and that one was my main guitar for years after that. It was just that Holy Grail moment. It was like, “Oh my God! This is the guitar!” I don’t use the trem, but it was really comfortable for me, it was flat-faced, you know? And wow, it was comfortable, it was “Wow, man! This is the guitar!” And right there I told the rep, “”Dude, I’m taking this guitar.” I’m like, “I don’t care, replace it. And I took that guitar with me and it was my main guitar for two years.”
Basically that was my guitar and as I was chasing that Holy Grail and whatnot, I found a little bit of this and that [that I wanted to modify] and that was how we started to develop the signature guitar. One of the things about the PX3 was that even though it was amazing and it played so nice, I found like… maybe if you’d enlarge the head stock I would get a little more sustain out of it ‘cause the headstock is the loudest part of the guitar and the smaller it gets, the less sustain, so let’s give it a little bit longer headstock. And just for looks I reversed it — heavy metal… we’re staying traditional but it has a little bit of a metal thing to it, you know?
The back of the Floyd [Rose tremolo] has a Floyd upgrade. I have a bigger block in that even though I lock it, I don’t use it. It’s a big hunk of metal, it makes things sound really nice and it has a nice chime, it has a nice sustain. It’s really comfortable for my hand, like when I have to hit 220 BPM and freaking riffs. It’s easy to play and plus just the fact that it’s locked, it stays in tune beautifully. You’re gonna’ see [at tonight’s concert] if I don’t break a string I don’t really change guitars. It’s super stable.
They went for things like, lookwise I have three models. And basically what I did was, I took the guitar, the original one I had had a mahogany body and an ebony fingerboard. I had an ebony fingerboard polished so now it’s a higher grade, higher polished, so it’s faster, easier.
I was pretty happy with that and then we started to think, I really like the feel of maple so let’s make a model that has a maple neck and a maple fingerboard. So we did that, and now I basically have, imagine this, the darkest one is the mahogany, the high polished ebony fingerboard, then I have one that’s a little bit brighter. It has the same body but has a maple neck, you know? And a maple fingerboard. And then I have what we call “The Blondie,” which basically has it all: it has a maple top and a maple neck and that’s the brightest one. So now I have three shades, kind of like that one is much brighter because of the wood and then there’s the middle and you know the mahogany is the darker one.
I mean, if I was completely out of my mind I could look at a [concert venue] like, “Okay, this place is concrete today. Hmmm… I’m going to use the darker sounding guitar and if [the room is] wood I’m gonna’ go for the brighter one,” but I’m not that anal about it. I actually roll down my high end a little bit when it’s too chimey. High midrange is the tone that always hurts. So I try to smooth it out. I don’t scoop myself. You need the midrange . That’s where the punch is coming from. So if you look at how my amp is set up, there is no scooping there. A lot of metal guitarists do that; they scoop it out ‘cause they feel like, “Okay, I’m getting the chunk.” What they don’t realize is going into a big room, especially outside or arenas or whatnot, that sounds like it gets nowhere, it’s lost.
That whole scooping thing is a great idea at home, in rehearsal, but somehow it doesn’t stand up live, so I don’t scoop it; I have my midrange in. And as I said, my three guitars already have a sonic, you know, character. It’s interesting to see that with the same gear, the three guitars do sound different. You would know immediately — the wood makes that much of a difference. Same pick up, same hardware, everything. But there’s a different character, even in sustain you can feel it, each one is different; so it’s an interesting thing. So that’s the three signature guitars for now, and we are working on more coming out in a few months. We’re gonna’ add stop tails ‘cause right now all of them come with the Floyd Rose. It’s an original Floyd, so it’s not a licensed thing, and I’m thinking of different configurations.
MPc: Do your signature models ship tuned with the baritone tuning?
Bathory: No. It was interesting, we were talking about this right now because this is a question that comes up a million times. Like people asking, “Okay, Zoltan. How did you get that? Why does that sound like that? What’s the story there?” And the next are strings — the next questions will be how did we get those strings? Most guitarists can get away with a seven string set and use the heavy strings. Then there was this conversation of should we maybe include a set of my strings with the signature guitar? They’re selling a lot of them but it comes standard. The thing is if you want to tune [like me], you don’t need to modify it. My strings fit perfectly and you can just do it.
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